February 14 is the birthday of Julius Nieuwland. Nieuwland was a Belgian priest and chemist who discovered the first commercially successful artificial rubber, polychloroprene. This is better known by DuPont’s trademark name, neoprene.
Nieuwland discovered he could polymerize acetylene into a rubber-like jelly of divinylacetylene. The story might have ended there except Elmer Bolton of DuPont attended a lecture of Nieuwland’s. Bolton knew there was a need for an alternative source of rubber since supplies of natural rubber were not keeping up with demand. Natural rubber is produced from the latex of the para rubber tree and the majority of the world’s rubber came from plantations in the Amazon rainforest. Chemical engineers around the world were trying to discover a useful synthetic alternative. Bolton acquired the rights to further develop Nieuwland’s discovery for DuPont. Scientists at DuPont collaborated with Nieuwland and in 1930 produced DuPrene. Since DuPont decided not to produce end-products made from DuPrene, they changed the name to a more generic “neoprene.”
Nieuland is also known for his discovery of a compound called lewisite. He discovered the reaction during his acetylene research but abandoned further research because of its poisonous nature. When he found out his research had been weaponized to produce lewisite gas, he nearly gave up chemical research entirely.
Notable Science History Events for February 14
2003 – Dolly, the cloned sheep died.
Dolly was a sheep that was the first mammal to be successfully born as a clone. Scientists of the Roslin Institute in Scotland transferred the nucleus of an adult sheep’s cell to the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell. Dolly was the first success after 277 attempts. She was euthanized after suffering from arthritis and lung disease after living six and a half years.
2000 – Walter Henry Zinn died.
Zinn was the Canadian-American nuclear physicist who initiated the first sustained chain reaction in the first nuclear reactor. He also designed the first breeder nuclear reactor which uses neutrons from the reactor pile to enrich other fissionable material.
1961 – Element 103 first produced.
Scientists at the University of California Berkeley successfully created element 103. It was produced by firing nitrogen nuclei into a curium target. This element was eventually named lawrencium after Ernest Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron technology used to produce the element.
1950 – Karl Guthe Jansky died.
Jansky was an American radio engineer and physicist who was a pioneer of radio astronomy and the first to detect cosmic radio sources. He was attempting to trace sources of radio static that would interfere with long-range radio communications. Using an antenna of his own construction, he classified three main sources of radio noise: near thunderstorms, far thunderstorms and one steady source that appeared to come from the direction of the Sun. He later tracked the source to be from the constellation Sagittarius, towards the center of the galaxy.
1917 – Herbert Hauptman was born.
Hauptman was an American mathematician and crystallographer who shares the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Jerome Karle for their development of the direct method determining crystal structures. They found a mathematical method to determine a crystal’s molecular structure from the crystal’s x-ray diffraction pattern. This would lead to a method of three-dimensional x-ray crystallography.
1911 – Willem Johan Kolff was born.
Kloff was a Dutch-American physician who was a pioneer in artificial organ research. He constructed the first dialysis machine to replace the function of kidneys. Dialysis machines are directly responsible for saving thousands of lives of people suffering from renal failure.
He also worked on devices to aid in the function of the lungs and heart.
1878 – Julius Arthur Nieuwland was born.
1869 – Charles Thomson Rees Wilson was born.
Wilson was a Scottish physicist who was awarded half the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the cloud chamber radiation detector. A cloud chamber consists of a glass box backed by a movable piston. The front panel was used to view the inside of the box and the side panels were lit to increase viewing. The piston back would pull back, changing the volume and pressure of the gases in the box. When charged particle radiation would enter the chamber, a vapor trail would condense along the path of the particle leaving small ‘cloud’ streaks. The streaks would last long enough to be photographed for study. This device was a great improvement over the previous methods to detect radioactivity.
1819 – Christopher Latham Sholes was born.
Sholes was an American newspaper publisher and inventor who invented the first successful typewriter. His original goal was to develop a machine to print tickets and number pages in a book but ended up with a device that could print words as well. He also laid the keys out in the fashion we still use today following the QWERTY format.